06 October, 2008

The happy times are over

It happens every year. Summer turns to autumn, daylight doesn't last as long, temperatures get cooler and the crops are harvested. Today was the day I took the air conditioners out of the windows and stored them, not to be seen again until next spring. In the world of a diesel mechanic, this time of year stirs up a mix of emotions. We no longer have to worry about staying cool and working on a warm diesel engine isn't as uncomfortable as it was in August. On the other hand we know winter is coming. In a couple of months we'll find ourselves yelling at the other guys in the shop to "Close that damn door! You think it's fucking springtime out there?!" We'll also soon find ourselves working outside in frigid temperatures trying to get those damned diesel engines started. With all the technology in the world today, nobody can design a diesel that works well in winter on its own. Some idiots won't plug the truck's engine heater in or they won't put an anti-gelling additive in their fuel. Others will leave the truck's lights on without the engine running not realizing that a battery's power decreases as temperature decreases. But, that's how things go and we manage to deal with it year after year. Winter doesn't always mean bad things for a diesel mechanic, it has good points too. To us, winter means money. It's not snow that falls from the sky, it's white gold. That reminds me, after talking with the other guys in the shop I've come to the conclusion that we all think the same way about winter. Between snow and sub zero temperatures, we hate the sub zero temperatures the most. Here's a situation for you to ponder that will help make my point.

Imagine it's a Sunday evening and as you crawl into your nice, warm bed you can hear the wind howling outside. The last check of the weather channel told you that it was -20F outside and with the wind chill added in it feels like -35F. You drift off to sleep under a pile of blankets. You wake up to a ringing phone at 01:00 and have to go out on a service call. With regret, you throw off the blankets and get out of bed. You shiver as your feet touch the cold floor and get dressed. As you open up the door and head out to your car, the sub zero temperature reaches out and smacks you in the face. You get on your way to the shop in a cold car and your teeth start chattering because it takes a long time for the engine to warm up. Just as your car finally starts putting out some heat, you're only a few blocks from the shop. At least the service truck is inside the shop and will warm up quickly. You get into the shop and prepare to go out on that service call. Aside from your jacket, you leave your street clothes on. You pull on the insulated bib overalls, a hooded sweatshirt over the bibs, pack boots, an arctic work coat and top it off with a stupid looking fur lined winter hat. Complete ear flaps. After you grab your clip board and gloves, you're off into the cold, cold night. As you drive down the road toward the truck stop, snow blows across the road making it difficult to see where you're going. You keep the truck's heater turned down because you know it will make the transition to working outside less of a shock. Finally, you reach the casualty and reluctantly get out of the cozy service truck. The irony of this situation makes you smile because the problem isn't related to cold weather at all. Somewhere under the cab you can hear an air leak. This requires you to not only get underneath the truck, but squeeze between the top of the transmission and the floor of the cab. Not an easy thing to do with all that winter gear you're wearing. You find a broken air line fitting quickly and get to work fixing it. Being a small fitting, it's impossible to handle with gloves on your hands, so you take the gloves off and hurry to do what needs to be done. Within minutes you can no longer feel your hands and your knees ache from being on a solid sheet of ice. After the cracked fitting has been removed you start to crawl out from underneath the truck but can't. Your heavy jacket is caught on something and you have to mess around trying to free it. Not an easy thing to do when you can't feel your hands. You free yourself and crawl out from under the truck then hurry over to the service truck and climb inside, thankful to be in from the cold. The frozen gloves get put onto the defroster vent and the fan gets put onto "high". When the feeling comes back to your hands, you do some paperwork while warming up. Back out into the cold night to install a new part. It's the same process as before. Numb hands, getting stuck and an aching body. Once the job is complete, you get back in the service truck and fill out the bill. Hoping that this driver doesn't give you any trouble over paying the bill. This driver is an understanding person and pays without problem. You thank the driver for the business and wish him a safe trip, then your cell phone rings. Another service call. With the temperatures as low as they are, it looks like you won't be getting back to that warm bed for quite a while. You work throughout the night and finally return to the shop around 07:30. By now you have been chilled to the bone and are still shivering despite being in a warm shop. The day shift has already arrived and they know you've been out all night. Your regular shift starts at 15:00 which would give you a decent amount of sleep, but you won't get out of the shop until 08:00 at the earliest. The boss comes by and notices your drooping eyes and the shivering fits you're still having. He asks a question something like "Have a rough night?" You give a faint smile and reply "Yeah, you might say that." Being the sympathetic person he is, he says you can come at 17:00 if you want some more sleep. You take him up on his offer and head home after restocking the service truck. Even though the sun is up, you'll have no problem falling asleep. The warm bed you left seven hours ago is cold, but that doesn't stop you from crawling in. It will be cozy in no time, but you don't even notice because as soon as your head hits the pillow, you drift off to sleep. Shivering.

That was a bit longer than I had planned, but it's what diesel mechanics, towing professionals and other similar professions go through. Yep, I'm not looking forward to winter, but it won't last too long. At least I'll make some good money from all the overtime I'll get.

No comments: